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Journalists behaving badly

/ 04:37 AM November 25, 2014

For decades, but especially since the Edsa “People Power” Revolt restored press freedom in the country, the Philippines has prided itself in having one of the freest, if not THE freest press, in the region.

Recovering from the repression and control of the media during the Marcos dictatorship, journalists basked not just in the sudden freedoms they enjoyed, but also in the number of employment opportunities that emerged, with the sudden “blooming” of media outlets—newspapers, magazines, radio stations and even TV networks, some of which reverted to the old owners displaced by martial law.

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Not everyone, of course, welcomed the wild and wooly media environment that emerged with the Marcoses’ departure. As former president Fidel Ramos once declared, whenever he read the day’s papers, “some make me want to commit suicide, while others make me want to commit homicide.”

These days the media profession faces challenges that in those heady post-Edsa days weren’t even on the horizon. The advent of new information technology has threatened the viability—nay, the very life—of what’s now called “traditional” media. Even as newspapers and broadcast outfits struggle to remain relevant and keep their advertising advantage over that of Facebook, blogs, e-magazines and such “micro news” sources like Twitter, they must also contend with the emergence of a world where “everybody with a cell phone can become a journalist.”

I would think that in such a world, media boundaries would be widening rather than narrowing, and that entities that must deal with all kinds of media—especially governments—would learn how to better relate to all kinds of people dealing with and demanding information, confirmation, opinion and judgment.

In this post-WikiLeaks world, nothing remains secret for long, and governments cannot hope to dictate the manner and conduct of coverage in a media environment that is as loose, uncontrollable and almost boundless as it is today.

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All this is by way of preface to news that the Bureau of Immigration has decided to “blacklist” nine unnamed Hong Kong journalists for allegedly posing a security threat to P-Noy.

The blacklisting stems from a press conference that the President held during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit held in Bali, Indonesia, last year. During that event, the nine journalists, as some reports put it, “crossed the line” when they aggressively questioned P-Noy about the continuing controversy over the botched rescue of hostages (who were all Hong Kong residents) at the Luneta in 2010.

BI spokesperson Elaine Tan defended the decision, saying that showing “disrespect or mak(ing) offensive utterances to symbols of Philippine authority” is sufficient reason to ban an individual from entering a country.

But are journalists behaving badly enough of a “security threat” to justify their being barred from entering the Philippines next year when it’s the country’s turn to host the Apec meet? Is rudeness or uncouth behavior now enough reason to warrant the imposition of persona non grata status on journalists who are doing their jobs?

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If we, the Filipino public, say yes, then that would give a lie to our proud declarations about the freedom of the press we enjoy. Press freedom, after all, is a social and democratic good we enjoy not just for ourselves; it must also extend even to foreigners who visit our shores.

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Rightly so, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) has questioned the BI’s order, wanting to know “what particular actions” by the Hong Kong journalists constituted their being declared a “public security threat.”

The Focap, of course, has good reason to be concerned. While many of its members are Filipinos, they all work for foreign news outfits, any of which could be banned from being published or distributed here, at the whim of officials.

Just when does aggressive, or even annoying, or even boorish questioning “cross the line” from doing one’s job to offending an official? And just when does an official’s or even the President’s hurt pride or tarnished dignity translate into a threat to public safety and security?

I wasn’t around in Bali when those Hong Kong journalists supposedly hectored P-Noy. But the President should be able to ignore or downplay annoying media behavior, one of the earliest lessons anyone in public service learns or should learn.

As Focap states, the government must clarify “what manner of questioning the president constitutes a public threat.” It’s a matter of concern not just for Focap but even for us lowly locals. Who knows if asking an impertinent question could earn one a visit from the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency?

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P-Noy has not exactly been chummy with the media, we must remember. He has punctuated many public appearances, even during media events, with pointed and acerbic comments about the media.

And as he mentioned in his latest State of the Nation Address, P-Noy felt aggrieved by the almost-daily slings and arrows of criticisms, leading him to wonder why he ever chose the path of public service.

The answer should be clear to him—and to us. P-Noy chose the difficult path of public service and leadership not just because of his own personal history but because he believes in democracy, as he declares again and again. And democracy relies in large part on freedom of the press, in the freedom not just of journalists but also of the people to access all the information they deserve, the better to make the right decisions and choices when they need to.

Teach the journalists in question some manners. Chide them for their boorishness. But allow them into the borders of the home of the “freest press in Asia,” as we once so proudly boasted.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Bureau of Immigration, Elaine Tan, freedom of the press, Journalism, journalists, Philippines, press
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